Thursday, March 29, 2012

Make No Mistake, Groce the Right Man for the Job

Sports is a funny business. This is particularly true in coaching searches, where the search can concentrate on the supposedly top candidates and be deemed a failure before a coach is even hired merely for failing to hire those top candidates. In college basketball, more and more mid major coaches are sticking at their positions, staying happy with their competitive salaries and solid programs. As a result, finding the right coach has shifted more from finding the hottest candidate on the market to finding the right fit. And in John Groce, Illinois didn't land the hottest name. He's not going to make fans jump out of their seats (yet). He might not force the phones in the athletic department to ring off the hook with ticket requests (yet). But one thing is for sure:  he's the best fit for Illinois basketball.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Irish Dominating Recruiting as Spring Practice Picks Up

Only a month ago, Fighting Irish football fans were naturally anxious. They were fresh off a tumultuous second season that saw terrible QB play undermine potentially great success. They saw several recruits, and a couple coaches, either get poached by other programs or just drop ND all together. To make matters worse, ND recruiting for the 2013 class had started slowly, forcing fans to sit back and watch Michigan pull in top recruits left and right in a fashion more akin to Texas recruiting. So when the Irish held their Junior Day last week, it coincided with the start of spring practice to give ND fans some form of hope for a fresh start. Little did they know that in South Bend this year, March would actually start roaring like a lion at the end of the month.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hawks on the Right Roll at the Right Time

Rewind back a month. The Hawks, reeling from a nasty losing streak, face the rest of the season from the ropes. A team loaded with talent has lost its way, teams are picking apart their special teams seemingly at will, and there are even rumors creeping in of Joel Quenneville losing his job. The special core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and the rest appear to bounce between pressing too hard or not trying hard at all. The Hawks faceda steep goaltending competition, and GM Stan Bowman appears to have to sacrifice it all to make much needed changes. Above all, any hopes for the season appeared to be lost.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bulls' Will to Win Supersedes All

Bill Simmons calls it The Secret. Others call it an ultimate competitive drive. Still others call it a superior will to win. Me? I refer to it as simply giving a sh- ... well you get the point. In the NBA, of course talent matters. Having the best players means you are far more likely to succeed than the average team. Having money matters to get those players. And having a good coach matters to instruct those players. But above all, more than anything else, a team isn't going to win unless they have the collective "give a crap" attitude. Look no further than the Bulls' stomping of Orlando tonight for the perfect example.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No Rose, No Problem, as the Heated Rivalry Continues

Whew. Now that was a game. In their second matchup of the season, the Bulls took down the Miami Heat minus the MVP, Derrick Rose, in what emphasized every aspect that makes the Bulls, as Luol Deng says, a "real team." The team defense was outstanding, there were contributions from many different people, and the bench as a whole dominated. The Bulls were able to survive some horrible officiating, and the UC was rocking with an atmosphere more akin to a playoff game than a game in the middle of the season.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Landing Marshall a Coup for Bears

By trading for Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall yesterday, Bears GM Phil Emery showed he's not only serious about making moves to help the team, but that he's focused on bringing in the weapons to surround his franchise quarterback. The move exceeded the expectations of going out and trying to sign Vincent Jackson. When you combine his addition with the signing of Jason Campbell, it's easy to see that Emery has come out swinging in his debut for the Bears.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time for Emery to Shine as Free Agency Begins

With the NFL free agency period set to begin tomorrow afternoon, the Bears enter it with the all-too-familiar need to improve multiple positions on the roster. Almost every position on the roster needs upgrades or depth. Sadly, the Bears found themselves in this same position last year, coming out of the lockout with a clear need for several positions that was simply not addressed. Perhaps Jerry Angelo spent too much time during the lockout playing golf, who knows. But there is hope for change, as the woeful management of Angelo has been replaced by Phil Emery. Although not much is known about Emery's intentions in terms of philosophy, the simple fact that the Bears moved in a new direction creates hope, false or not, that the Bears will start to more closely resemble what a professional football franchise should look and act like.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

RIP, Phil.

The world lost a great one when Phil Patnaude, a great friend, brother, family member, fiancee, and person, passed away this weekend in Chicago. I've spent the past couple of days trying to come to grips with how to deal with this, as I can only imagine his closest friends and family have done. That's why I'm writing this here, even though this is usually about sports. I want to remember Phil. I want everyone to remember Phil. And really, that will never be a problem, as Phil left a lasting impact on anyone fortunate enough to meet him.

I remember meeting Phil at the University of Illinois in the Fall of 2005, my freshman year and his senior year. I wasn't particularly interested in rushing a fraternity, as I found the large size of many of the houses on campus a turn off. Yet, I knew a couple of guys in Delta Phi, a smaller fraternity. I decided to give it a shot.

Now, at most fraternities on campus, the sheer size of the frat contributes to a sort of division between the various pledge classes that join the house. This wasn't the case at Delta Phi, where the small size of the house necessarily led to a more cohesive brotherhood. But that wasn't the only reason for the lack of a division. The older guys in the house, completely out of the norm for the Greek system on campus, seriously cared about the incoming guys and wanted to be friends with them. Phil was the epitome of this.

He made it a priority to take time out of his last year in school to make friends with the younger guys, not out of necessity because of the size of the house, but because he wanted to. It instantly made me want to be a part. I watched how close he was with the rest of his class as well, and it made me realize how truly close the guys in the house were. I will seriously never forget that.

As the bad news rolled in Monday, I couldn't help but first think of all those who had remained really close to Phil over the years. His fiancee, his close friends from Delta Phi, his family, etc. Those guys were always together, coming down to Champaign for homecoming or just for the hell of it, and each time impressed me with their desire to be friends with all of us younger guys, and the way they all stuck together and stayed close friends even those years after college. I can't possibly imagine what those guys and others close to him are going through, because I know myself the impact that Phil has left on me.

I wasn't super close to Phil. I knew him well during my freshman year at Illinois, and fell back into a good friendship anytime I saw him or the other older guys come down in the years after they graduated. I wish after I had graduated I had taken it upon myself to cement relationships with those guys, who always impressed me with their ability to care about us and each other, at least more than just the random sighting at a bar or playing fantasy football. But one thing I do know is that I'm hurting bad from Phil's loss, probably not even close to what those closest to him are feeling, but bad. And really, that's a testament to the impact that Phil had on nearly everyone he came across.

The outpouring of love, support, and consideration for Phil only shows how valued he was as a person to so many different people. People who didn't know him are heartbroken just by seeing the reactions of those close to him. Everyone, whether they saw him everyday or just once, know what a loss this is to the world around us. It's heartbreaking.

No one can truly prepare for the loss of a friend. But something tells me, or at least I hope so, that it will bring us closer together. I know that it helps to see friends, brothers, family members, or anyone who knew Phil, to help get us through this. Maybe together we could all try to emulate Phil's infectious smile, engaging and gregarious personality, sheer honest and kind attitude, ability to have fun and bring that fun to others, and all of the other amazing qualities that made him who he was. At least I hope so.

I want to express my heartfelt condolences for those who knew Phil better and were closer to him than I was. All of the older guys at Delta Phi, his fiancee Selena, his family, and everyone else he met along the way. I am hurting, and I can only imagine what you're going through. I am here for anything you can possibly need. 

RIP, Philmo. You will most definitely be sorely missed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Can This Bulls Team Win the Championship?

In last night's big road win against San Antonio, the Bulls played their usual game. They kept the game close against a good team by playing good defense, and for the most part, relying on Derrick Rose. This is the formula that the team has used to tremendous regular season success for almost two years now. More encouraging were signs at the end of the game of just what consistent contributions from other players could bring to this team. In the 4th quarter, after 3 quarters of a game reliant solely on Rose, the Bulls awoke. Ronnie Brewer started to land his jumper. Joakim Noah solidified his defense and crashed the boards even harder than he did before. Luol Deng came out of his slumber to land a couple clutch 3's. And Carlos Boozer, well, he still sucked.